Law School: Everyone Gets In!

Law school applications, for the third year in a row, have declined. The New York Times reports that:

Law school applications are headed for a 30-year low, reflecting increased concern over soaring tuition, crushing student debt and diminishing prospects of lucrative employment upon graduation.

As of this month, there were 30,000 applicants to law schools for the fall, a 20 percent decrease from the same time last year and a 38 percent decline from 2010, according to the Law School Admission Council. Of some 200 law schools nationwide, only 4 have seen increases in applications this year. In 2004 there were 100,000 applicants to law schools; this year there are likely to be 54,000.

This is very much a problem for law schools, who rely upon applicants (with their willingness to pay hefty tuition fees) to keep their doors open. “We are going through a revolution in law with a time bomb on our admissions books,” William D. Henderson, a professor of law at Indiana University, told the Times.

This is unlike what’s happening in other professions requiring advanced degrees. Applications for medical and business schools continue to rise.

But this decline probably isn’t going to be a problem for the country itself (“Oh God, can no one perform this corporate merger for me?”). Indeed, people are likely unwilling to apply to law school for the very rational reason that there are fewer good jobs available for lawyers than in the last decade.

2013 will, as the Times writes, likely see some 54,000 people apply to law school. That’s an important number, because for years about 56,000 people a year were admitted to law schools. That’s essentially the number of spaces available across the country for new law students. If law schools aren’t getting smaller, and the Times prediction is correct, that means that this year almost no one will be rejected from law school.

This doesn’t mean that everyone who wants to go to Yale Law gets in, of course. But it does mean almost everyone who applies will get in somewhere.

That’s going to be trouble in coming years for law schools; if everyone can get in somewhere, this means aspiring law students have power. They won’t necessarily be willing to assume huge debt if they know there’s some school out there that will offer them a good financial aid package.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer